Guided by Voices at Bimbo's, by SarahJayn Kemp
Guided By Voices (photo: SarahJayn Kemp)

“We cannot fucking believe we are opening up for GBV.” said Zach of Rogue Wave. There was a breathlessness in his voice that made it seem as if in saying this, the air had been swept from his lungs. “I can honestly say,” he continued, “if It weren’t for GBV, I wouldn’t be in a band today!”  It must be taxing to play with your heroes.

Despite their lead singer’s exhaustion via adulation, Rogue Wave played an enjoyable set. Their music was bright and poppy, but not inconsequential. There was nothing too heavy, too funky, or too daring in their sound. They managed to be widely appealing without being boring, which is no easy feat. The degree with of precision with their instruments bordered on the metered sound of math rock, but there was no prerequisite nasal pitch in their vocals. Front man Zach has a soothing voice that is oddly suited for rock and roll. I’d go see Rogue Wave again. I’d like to see if they still retain their shine while not as starstruck.

Zach was not the only impassioned fan. People were crowded shoulder-to-shoulder. Pressed up against the stage, fans began chanting, “G-B-V! G-B-V!” moments before the headliners went onstage, in a non-sarcastic earnestness that is so rarely hauled out these days.

I can tell you, the show was worth the intensity. The great promise of indie rock is that it is going to provide something so ordinary that it becomes ethereal. Guided by Voices certainly delivered on that last Saturday night. Though their live work could never match the haunting canned natural for which their lo-fi studio albums are known, Voices made miracles out of simple sound with an epically long set list. Playing to a crowd of GBV devotees, Voices could have possibly phoned this one in, but they didn’t. They came to put in a full night’s work, and they did.

This tour is in support of their new album, August by Cake. The album marks Pollard’s 100th studio album. In many ways, this incarnation of GBV feels a lot like the Robert Pollard Experience. He’s the only member of GBV that has been consistent, and he’s the only member that’s been irreplaceable. In case you aren’t familiar with Robert Pollard, just mix equal parts junior-high science teacher, Roger Daltrey, and Ohio, and you’ve pretty much got it. He drank Miller Lite from a beat-up red Igloo cooler on the stage while gesturing to the audience with all the grandeur of the Royal Court.

Pollard’s vocals were solid throughout the set, though not as smooth as the LP version. If you’re looking to relive your favorite GBV. album, your best bet is to fire up the turntable. It’s clear that Pollard is a production perfectionist, as his albums have a prettiness to them that doesn’t translate in his voice live. However, if you are willing to forgo a little sweetness, Pollard’s teeth-baring vocals are a great match.

The highlight of the evening was possibly hearing GBV’s haunting spiral "My Valuable Hunting Knife." If lament could be manufactured, I think it would sound something like this song — and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Despair is something that musicians love to trot out and parade around whenever they need a serious song. Since all of GBV’s songs are serious (or at least sound serious), they need to take it a step further. Enter "Hunting Knife," a hopeful give-up song.

GBV played a mammoth set list that night, leaving the fans swaying in unison with each other. There’s a drawing power to the GBV sound, and everyone at Bimbo’s was pulled in close.

Tags: